As Canton selectmen meet this Wednesday, land use will once again be a prominent topic of discussion.
The Board of Selectmen agenda includes two topics related to the process developers and business owners go through, especially when it comes to new construction and expansions.
Those topics are the merits of the town’s Design Review Team and potentially combing the Planning and Zoning commissions.
“We certainly have been committed to trying to streamline the process,” First Selectman Richard Barlow said.
The discussions are part of larger conversations about the land-use process in Canton, which some have labeled cumbersome. Over the past couple years, selectmen have made changes in land-use boards, including the controversial bypassing of some commissioners for reappointment.
The town is also currently revising its zoning regulations and updating its Plan of Conservation and Development, the latter of which municipalities, strongly encouraged by the state, generally do every 10 years.
The possibility of combing the town’s planning
and zoning commissions is not new and was discussed by a charter revision commission in 2008 and on other occasions.
However, many have advocated a new look and combining commissions is stated in the Board of Selectmen's goals and has been advocated by other groups, including the town's Economic Development Agency.
many development applicants have to appear before both the Planning and Zoning commissions (and sometimes others). In most cases, a proposal first goes to the Zoning Commission and is then referred
to the Planning commission, which often has to determine if it satisfies the town’s
Plan of Conservation and Development and/or state “8-24” Municipal Improvement requirements, which include public utilities.
the process to bring CVS to town, for example, Konover Development Corp. had to
appear before both commissions when seeking changes in the property’s zoning regulations and again with its specific site plan application.
The Planning Commission also writes and processes subdivision applications, and reviews zoning regulations and zoning map amendments applications for POCD compliance and other issues, according to town documents.
The Zoning Commission writes and adopts local regulations and approves site plans and special permit applications based on those. Some requirements are dictated by state law.
Included in the agenda for
this week’s meeting are memos Neil Pade, Canton's director of planning and community
development, prepared for a charter revision commission in 2008.
memo, viewable in this week's selectmen's packet, list pros of combining the commissions, such as the need for fewer volunteers, lack of “turf battles,” no need for zoning
referrals, less staff time and a streamlined process.
Cons listed included the requirement of members to be further versed in requirements, more power concentrated in a small group, some initial resentment among current board members, the possibility of more meetings and the perception of a more closed process.
In 2008, discussions centered around possibly combining the Planning, Zoning and Inland Wetlands "commissions." Selectmen are expected to center around the first two, and in a new memo for the meeting, Pade wrote, “it is the opinion of staff that the most logical and efficient arrangement is to have a combined PZC and separate inland wetlands commission.”
Barlow said he feels that applicants generally present the same information to planning and zoning commissions. While it may require a bit more knowledge, he does not feel combing the two would require a lot more time but rather different “hats” from commissioners considering the information.
would also save applicants time and money, he said.
need to make the process work better,” Barlow said.
Wednesday selectmen are also expected to continue a discussion on the town's Design Review Team (DRT).
that are proposing a new building or expanding an existing one generally meet
with the DRT, an advisory board to the Zoning Commission, to discuss details
such as building design, landscaping and lighting.
example, Konover Development Corp. and its team met also met with DRT before the CVS site plan was presented to the Zoning Commission. In another example, Saybrook Fish House,
represented by Landscape Architectural Design Associates, appeared before the
DRT with its plan to add an outside dining area.
Earlier this year the Canton Chamber of Commerce formally asked that the DRT be dissolved, contending that the process is not working well and is too subjective. Several businessmen and some former officials involved in creating the board agreed.
DRT members and some others defended the board, stating that it has resulted in better projects while allowing flexibility. Some selectmen have advocated more specific design standards, which could then be interpreted by the DRT or town staff.
Barlow said several selectmen were in favor of establishing various design standards for different sections of town, using “districts” outlined in the town’s draft of its 2013 Plan of Conservation and Development.
That’s a process that would likely involve some type of public input but Barlow said the town first needs to complete its revised zoning regulations, a draft of which the Zoning Commission has spent the last several months reviewing. That process is open to the public and further hearings will be held.
The DRT debate included many points and counterpoints. Coverage can be seen in previous Patch articles, including this June story and a subsequent Courant article. The entire recent Board of Selectmen conversations can also be heard on the town's web site as follows:
June 26, 2013
July 24, 2013
Wednesday's agenda can be viewed at